Poughkeepsie, p.44
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       Poughkeepsie, p.44

           Debra Anastasia

  Livia had to cover her mouth again, and her tears slipped over her fingers. She smiled after a moment and opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.

  Finally Cole spoke. “Shall we exchange rings?” He nodded at Beckett, who let the rings fall into Cole’s hands as if it were the most important job he’d ever done. Perhaps to him it was.

  Livia removed her hand from Blake’s to take his ring from Cole’s palm. She kissed the ring and prepared to place it in its permanent home on his finger.

  “Repeat after me,” Cole instructed. “This ring is a token of my love. I marry you with this ring, with all that I have and all that I am.”

  Livia said her words and placed the ring. Her smile was huge. Blake counted again. Livia pulled off her engagement ring and held her now bare hand out to Blake.

  Blake didn’t give Cole a chance to repeat his script. He remembered each of Livia’s words. “This ring is a token of my love,” he said. “I marry you with this ring, with all that I have and all that I am.”

  He took the engagement ring from her right hand and slipped that on her left as well. Livia stepped into his arms and kissed him, her previous shyness overwhelmed by joy.

  Cole laughed. “And you may keep kissing the bride. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Blake Hartt.”

  He clapped, and the crowd stood to offer their congratulations. Blake whirled Livia into a dip and continued to kiss her, while Beckett whooped and Kyle whistled loudly. The train rumbled in behind the guests, the clattering wheels adding their noise to the standing ovation.

  The unusual sight before them momentarily disoriented the passengers tumbling off the train. Blake and Livia came up for air, laughing and smiling at the crowd. Some commuters just powered up the red-covered stairs with nothing but a second glance. Most took a few steps forward and stood respectfully, taking in the romantic scene. The train had a schedule to keep and rumbled out of the station.

  As the applause quieted down, a single loud voice came from the back of the crowd. “What’th the problem here? Let me through!”

  An oily man with a horrible comb-over pushed his way through the spectators.

  Livia and Blake’s eyes widened. Homeleth Humper! she mouthed silently.

  “Thith ith ridiculouth. Blocking a whole platform for thith carrying on? It’th dithguthing.” He scanned the crowed with his beady eyes. When he finally spotted Blake and Livia, he was as shocked as they were. He opened his mouth to speak, but seemed to think better of it when he noticed a group of police officers rising to their feet.

  John held out his badge. “Is there a problem, sir? We have a permit to be here.”

  A panicked, slippery look engulfed the man’s face. “I wath talking on my phone, not to you people.”

  John looked the man up and down. “You do realize you’re not actually holding a phone right now?”

  The man looked at his empty hands. Then he took off running up the stairs, almost toppling a bank of candles. As he departed, Livia and Blake got down to the business of accepting congratulations from their guests.

  “Hey, everyone, the reception is right across the way in Firefly Park,” Kyle announced, taking it upon herself to direct traffic. “You can either walk or drive. The wedding party will be over right after pictures.”

  Beckett posed joyfully with his brothers as the photographer took shot after shot, maximizing the sun’s final dramatic show and the candles’ warm glow in the background. The wedding planner’s assistants began dismantling the magical wedding setting.

  After smiling for a family photo with his daughters, John announced, “All right. I talked to the boys. Beckett, you can stay for the reception.” He nodded while he granted the reprieve. “Afterward, we’ll bring you in for questioning.”

  John turned to leave, but Blake caught his attention. “Sir, thank you. It means the world to me that he’s here.”

  “Yup. No problem, son.” John stepped around the scurrying assistants, and rejoined Kathy to head for the park.

  Blake pulled Livia to him. “How do you manage to be so brave every day?”

  Livia put a hand on his smooth jaw. “I should ask you. Seeing you stand—here, of all places—in the sun to wait for me was amazing.”

  After they finished the pictures, Kyle made sure the bride and groom got a moment alone on the empty and now darkening train platform.

  “We’ll see you guys over there,” she hollered over her shoulder, permission and a threat all rolled in one.

  Blake ran his hands over Livia’s bare shoulders. “Tonight, I’ll make sure every part of you knows you got married.”

  Livia got on her tiptoes and nipped at his earlobe to show her appreciation.

  “Can I give you my gift now?” Blake reached in his pocket.

  “You gave me this already.” Livia wiggled her ring finger.

  He unfolded the music and held it open for her.

  “You wrote me a song,” she gasped. “I love it, though you know I can’t read music.” She kissed his lips and held the paper against her heart.

  “Wait! Oh my gosh. Let me get your gift.” She grabbed a gift bag Kyle had left by the steps. Just before she could hand it to him, she pulled it back. “But what if you hate it? It’s either perfect or horrible. Now I’m worried.”

  Blake tilted his head and squinted his eyes. “It’s perfect. I’m sure of it. Hand it over.”

  Livia looked sheepish as he moved the tissue paper out of the way. He unrolled the familiar-shaped cardboard and stared at the keyboard she had painstakingly drawn.

  Livia tried to cover her worry with words. “I’m not sure if I should have replaced it. I mean, I know nothing could replace it. I tried to get the keys right. I went through like ten boxes and—”

  Blake could move quickly when he wanted to, and she gasped as he kissed her mid-word. He finally stopped long enough to thank her. “Every time I think I couldn’t love you a bit more, you stretch my heart again.”

  “So play it! Play my song. Please?” Livia sat down on the platform, right where she’d been standing.

  Blake sat down as well, facing her. The moon now claimed the sky as hers, surfacing slowly over the trees. Blake tested her hand-drawn keys, and in his head he heard a full piano play his heart out loud for her.

  Livia clapped when he was done. She put her hand behind his head and pulled his lips close. “I think I heard it,” she whispered before kissing him.

  Kyle’s shrill voice interrupted their moment. “Figured you two would turn this into a scout meeting. Will you get your asses up here? People are waiting. I mean Beckett here has maybe a few hours before he’s bent over a metal toilet getting it up the ass from a guy named Bubba. Do you want him to have fun now or not?”

  The streetlight illuminated Beckett as he appeared next to Kyle. “Why would I be the bitch? I don’t think that’s a fair fucking assumption.”

  Kyle refused to look at him and crossed her arms. “Of course you’d be the bitch. You have dimples. Bitches have dimples. And I bet your ass is soft like two pillows. Bubba’s going to love bouncing off of you.”

  Beckett stormed away, dragging Kyle with him. “I’ll be the fucker,” he told her. “Not the fuckee. The fucker.”

  “Fine, asshole, you’re the fucker,” Kyle’s voice faded away as they returned to the party.

  Livia touched Blake’s chest. “We’d better go. Sounds like they need us up there. Are you ready?”

  Blake stood, rolled up his piano, and tucked it back in the bag. “I’m totally ready.”

  He held out his hand to Livia and pulled her up easily. Hand in hand they walked over to their reception. Lorraine’s music carried over the water, treating neighboring towns to the celebration as well. All the little trees around the picnic tables had been wrapped in white lights. The candles from the ceremony had been relit in the park, giving the evening a flickering, twinkling glow. The portable dancefloor could scarcely hold the happy crowd as Kyle and Beckett ente
rtained with intricate dancing that looked almost like fighting. Between every song, however, Kyle took a time out to snuggle with Cole.

  Soon John and Livia shared their dance, and John laughed out loud when Kyle horned in and made it a three-way love sandwich. After the dance, Beckett grabbed a champagne glass from a covered picnic table and stepped up onto it so everyone could see him.

  “Hey! Listen up, everybody! I’m Beckett, and I’m the best man here. I do believe it’s part of my job to give a speech.”

  Blake and Livia looked at each other, silently wishing for only clean words from their colorful, criminal groomsman. The crowd quieted, and Lorraine turned the dance music down.

  “Blake, Cole, and I have been family for each other, because the ones we started with were for crap. Why they let me in, I still don’t know. But because they did, I believed I was worth more than I would have otherwise.” He nodded and gathered his thoughts for a moment.

  “Blake’s company made me want to hug trees and hear music. Cole’s company made me want to try harder to be a better person. I never imagined that anyone could love either of these men enough for me to let them go.”

  A warm breeze blew as the giant man stopped to compose himself. The guests could almost smell the promise of summer.

  “But I didn’t know about the McHugh girls. Their love is fiercer than guns. More powerful than fistfuls of money. I can walk away because of them. Officer McHugh? I want to thank you again for letting me see this through. I know my peace of mind is far from your concern, but I appreciate it anyway.”

  Beckett held his glass up high. “To my brothers. They’ve finally gotten the lives they deserve.”

  The guests raised their glasses high, the clinking of the glass its own applause.

  “Now, if I might have a little mood music?” Beckett continued. “I want to take this bride for a test ride on the dancefloor.” He drained the rest of his glass and hopped down to find Livia.

  She grabbed his hand as he passed. “Whitebread, you’re edible. What a stunning lady you are. Blake’s a lucky man.” Beckett waggled his eyebrows at his brother as he spun, twirled, and dipped Livia out to the center of the dancefloor. Blake watched with a smile as other couples moved into the space around them and Lorraine filled the air with music again.

  Having seen Beckett in action before, Livia just let his big hands show her body where to go. She concentrated on his face. His smile might fool others, but she saw that he was clinging desperately to the joy around him, as if he could somehow soak it in.

  “Beckett, where’s Eve?”

  He hummed the song and twirled her around again, avoiding the question.

  When he had her pressed to his chest, she tried again. “Are you going to tell me or what?”

  Beckett sighed and looked into her face. “I left her, babycakes. She needs wings, not handcuffs.”

  He held Livia tighter, like she was a teddy bear.

  She stopped moving her feet and hugged him around the neck. “You’re not handcuffs. Don’t you know that? She loves you. She does, I’ve seen it.”

  Beckett resumed dancing, dipping her again. “Look around, Whitebread. She’s not here. She didn’t try to stop me from coming. Her heart belongs to a dead man and a dream. I’m neither of those things.” Beckett released her and clapped for the end of the song. He reached in his pocket and produced a crumpled envelope. “Here’s my gift to you guys. I’m sure Blake won’t want to accept it, but I’m hoping you’ll convince him. For me.”

  Livia took the envelope and said thank you, trying to do something, anything that would make Beckett feel better.

  “I better get over to your dad. I know he said later, but my job here is done.” Beckett’s voice was resigned.

  “Beckett, would you do me a favor? For my wedding?” Livia asked suddenly.

  He nodded. “You know I’ll do whatever you ask.”

  She looked over her shoulder and back to his face. “In a minute I’m going to faint away from lack of food. When I wake up, I would appreciate it if you were miles away on Eve’s bike.”

  “You’re going to crack your fucking head trying to pull a stunt like that.” He ran his hand through his hair. “And I gave your dad my word. I don’t want him to think that was all a ploy.”

  “You said anything. Come on, big guy, give me what I want.” She looked at him hopefully. “I’ll explain it all to my dad later. I promise.”

  Beckett leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Fine. You take good care of my brother. Tell them both I said goodbye. I can’t do it. I’m a pussy.”

  Livia turned her back on him, not wanting to seem upset. She gave him a two-minute head start, making sure she was far from Blake’s fast arms and in full view of everyone. Livia went down as hard as she dared, her hands catching her despite her willing them not to.

  But her ruse worked. She heard shocked gasps and quickly felt Blake’s assessing hands. She could barely hear the motorcycle revving over the booming music. She waited until it faded before she opened her eyes. Ted appeared at Blake’s side, looking concerned. After a quick evaluation he declared Livia fine. She made a point to tell those gathered she hadn’t eaten all day.

  Blake escorted her, like she was made of blown glass, over to the dessert table. He sat her down and carefully extracted a cupcake from the tower of confections that served as their wedding cake. After Blake broke tradition and fed only her, she made a miraculous recovery and survived to feed him as well. But when she saw her father watching them, shaking his head, she knew her act hadn’t fooled him. However, he was still here, so it seemed he’d decided to let Beckett go—at least for now. Livia gave him a warm smile, so thankful he was her dad, and not strictly a police officer. She vowed to talk to him later—to clear Beckett’s name of at least this offense.

  Once Livia had thoroughly convinced Blake she was fine, he asked her formally to join him in the center of the floor. He took off his jacket and slipped it over her shoulders. Now, with her train bustled and her veil removed, she could settle deep into Blake’s arms. Blake had picked the song for their first dance, and Livia laughed when she realized they’d selected music by the same artist, just different songs. She stopped laughing when she heard the lyrics. None present could miss the deeply felt meaning in the words.

  The artist sang of dreams and a home. Blake moved slowly with Livia, and she could feel the lyrics vibrating in his chest as he sang softly with the music. Livia tilted her head so she could watch him mouth home. She loved the word on his lips and touched them with her fingertips. Blake stopped singing to kiss her hand. He took his gaze off of Livia to take in the guests surrounding the dancefloor. While the couple danced, the partygoers had lit floating lanterns. Blake and Livia were now surrounded by huge, glowing orbs.

  With the last strains of the song’s guitar, the group released the lanterns, which took flight like little hot-air balloons. As they climbed silently into the dark heavens, Livia spun and leaned her head against Blake’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her, and together they watched the floating lights get smaller and smaller.

  Livia took Blake to the gift table when the quiet show was over. She pulled Beckett’s crumpled envelope from behind a box. “He gave me this, and he left. He told me to tell you goodbye.”

  Blake nodded and hesitated before taking the envelope. When he finally opened it, he found a simple account number and instructions in Eve’s handwriting inside. Livia and Blake looked at each other in silence. Then Blake pulled another paper from the envelope: a reservation at a bed and breakfast in Rhinebeck. Blake nuzzled Livia’s neck. “Now this I know what to do with. You’ve been my bride. I promise to spend all night making you my wife.”


  Lose Count

  BLAKE SMILED, AND LIVIA felt absolutely sure as he unlocked their room at the bed and breakfast. She waited, knowing what was next from her traditional husband. Blake stepped inside, set Livia’s overnight bag on the floor, and flipped the light switch. He c
ame out and smiled.

  His eyes were a little glassy from the champagne Beckett had forced on him. She wondered if his lips still held a bit of bubbly. When she kissed him his perfect taste did have a hint of celebration left in it.

  “May I escort you inside, Mrs. Hartt?”

  Livia bit her lower lip and nodded.

  Blake scooped her up.

  To be carried was such a basic thing. And yet it felt…Primal? Almost. Religious? Maybe.

  She focused on his deep, even breaths as he maneuvered through the doorway. Livia laughed a little at herself. She was grateful for the simple act of Blake’s breathing.

  Blake set her down gently and began exploring the room. Livia took his tux jacket off her shoulders and rested it on the back of a chair. After a moment he emerged from the bathroom with a wicked smile and proceeded to light candle after candle from the supply he’d located in a cabinet. Soon the room flickered with tiny flames everywhere and smelled of hot, pecan-scented wax.

  She snapped off the overhead light. Blake hit play on her iPod, which he’d propped up on its speakers, and a slow, sexy song gave Livia tingles.

  They stood facing one another, he in his tux, she in her white gown. The night was meant for them, for this. Shyness crept up the train of her dress and found its way to her cheeks. How she could be shy now, with him, was beyond her. Maybe because they were legally required to make love. Maybe because the look in his eyes was that of a hungry man.

  “I want to change. Can you help me with this zipper?” she asked.

  Blake spun her around, as if they were executing a dance step.

  “Lift your hair.” His breath tickled her ear.

  She complied with her husband’s wish and held her hair out of the way. He opened the zipper slowly. Livia held her breath as he traced the V her dress framed on her skin.

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